CHICAGO -- Through seven innings on Sunday night, Jake Arrieta had allowed just one hit and thrown only 84 pitches. But that was as far as Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon wanted to go with his ace right-hander.
Maddon approached Arrieta in the middle of the seventh inning and said, "I know you're gonna hate me; go ahead and hate me ..."
"I don't want to hate you," Arrieta shot back. "Don't do it."
Maddon did it anyway. Convincing his manager to let him continue was about the only thing that Arrieta didn't execute superbly in leading the Cubs to a 4-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates to salvage the final game of the three-game series at Wrigley Field.
Despite having his performance cut short, Arrieta (21-6) continued his unprecedented second-half dominance and late-season push for the Cy Young Award in the National League.
He lowered his earned-run average to 1.82 for the season. If he keeps it below 2.00 for the season -- which seems a safe bet at this point -- he will become the first Cubs pitcher since Grover Cleveland Alexander (1.91) in 1920 to record a sub-2.00 ERA for the season.
Arrieta is now 11-1 with a 0.80 ERA (nine earned runs in 101⅓ IP) in 14 starts since the All-Star break. That ERA would be the lowest post-All-Star break ERA in major league history. Kris Medlen of the Atlanta Braves holds the record of a 0.94 ERA, which was set in the second half of the 2012 season.
Arrieta also became the first Cubs pitcher to win more than 20 games in a season since Ferguson Jenkins went 24-13 in 1971.
"I talked about it earlier in the year that I thought there was another level to him," Maddon said. "I think you're seeing it now."
For a while Sunday, it appeared that Arrieta might throw a perfect game on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball four weeks after his no-hitter in Dodger Stadium on national television.
He retired the first 18 hitters he faced before Gregory Polanco led off the seventh inning with a single. Before that, seemingly everyone in the ballpark realized Arrieta had no-hit stuff -- including Arrieta.
"I knew the situation I was in," he said. "Things were working well. All my pitches were pretty sharp. I knew going in it was gonna be a pretty good night. I had a pretty go feel for everything from the get-go, before the game, and it carried over.
"I knew there was a chance."
Arrieta, a workout fanatic, has tunnel vision and primarily is focused on team goals with the Cubs headed to the postseason for the first time since 2008. But even he can't avoid the numbers.
"I see some of the information," he said. "People tell me things about the comparables. It's pretty exciting. But there's still work to be done. It's nice to put a little thought into it and move forward and continue to pursue the goals we set for ourselves and look back on these things once the season is over."
Zack Greinke of the Los Angeles Dodgers leads baseball with an ERA of 1.65 and is considered Arrieta's main competition for the NL Cy Young Award. Maddon also believes that Arrieta has to be in the discussion for the league most valuable player award as well.
"What's he's done in the second half is unparalleled; nobody's ever seen what he's doing right now," the manager said. "Then to have the venue of Sunday Night Baseball twice and give up one hit in 16 innings against two very good teams, what does that mean? There's a lot there that I think voters have to consider when they look at this fella.
"I know the other guys are really good and I know I'm his manager, but I've never seen anything like that, and nobody else has either."
Unless something drastic happens in the final week of the regular season, the Cubs and Pirates will square off again in a one-game wild-card playoff in Pittsburgh. The Cubs would prefer to have the game at Wrigley but like their chances because Arrieta is lined up to start, after making a tune-up start most likely Friday.
"He's the best right-handed pitcher in the game right now and he showed it," Cubs catcher Miguel Montero said. "What he brings to the table every game, it's a possible no-hitter every time.
"Earlier in the year I said he was one of the best I ever caught. Now I say he's the best I ever caught."